A Brief (Once-A-)Fan-Fiction Interlude…

[For anyone not a fan of Mass Effect, the following post will no doubt be mystifying.  Indeed, it’s likely that for anyone, fan or not, what follows will be completely baffling.  …And not particularly amusing.  But inspired by our recent return to the discussion of Bioware’s anticlimactic trilogy (and in no way using this as a lazy attempt to prolong my still having not produced that 2013 retrospective I promised …yikes), I wanted to return to a sarcastic fictional jab at the whole Crucible narrative of Mass Effect 3 that I penned a year or so back.  It is very, very stupid – and you have my sincere apologies.  Regular programming will soon resume…]

Crucible constriuction



CC: iamnottheshadowbroker@shadowbroker.com

FROM: FOREMAN: Terence Props (Professional Builder, Contractor, Electrical, Expert in Weird Imaginary Alien Tech What Glows and Stuff)


Yeah, look, this is Terry, Lead Project Builder out here on the Crucible.  Look, I don’t want to tell you Alliance fellas how to do your job, but me and the lads, we’ve got some concerns, and the regular chain of command these days seems about as useful as an Elcor ballet school.  (…Yeah, sorry about that.  Sully warned me that joke wouldn’t land.)

The things is, you hired me not just to be some company yes man.  My crew do good work (you saw the Capital building we knocked up before those big cuttlefish came and lasered it all to ash), and you know we don’t stuff about doing half-assed work.  We do things efficiently, and we do things right.  That’s why you hired us.  (And not to talk out of school, but I saw the half baked job your Alliance crew did on that Normandy ship: half the consoles weren’t installed but the fish tank in the Captain’s room was a priority?  Sometimes you have to wonder who these senior officers are sleeping with.)

I know this Crucible doohickie is a big deal.  Enough of your Alliance big-wigs come around each day to strut (seriously, does that Hackett guy not have a real job or something?), so we get the picture: it’s important.  So then why is it that every time we put in for overtime, every time we ask for more funding, every time we make a suggestion about the way things are getting done, we get ignored?  I’ve sent plenty of memos like this, and seen no reply at all.

And I’m telling you: we have some major issues up here.  This place is a mess.  And unless something’s done about it, I reckon there’s gonna be a big stink when someone actually flips this nonsense on and tries to make the idiot thing work:

First up: floor space.  Now, I don’t know who drew up your designs (sometimes I think you found them in a whole in the ground), but you should see the wasted floor space we have going on up here on the top level.  Sure, there’s the big laser water-fountain in the middle, but aside from that, and the one elevator (that no one seems to be able to get working) there’s just two big long pathways that lead to nowhere and a boring old view out into space.  It’s big, it’s gaudy, and it’s almost impossible to heat.  Seriously: the central air up here is ridiculous.

My wife, Sal, she’s an interior designer, real professional (she’s even worked with some of the Quarian fleets), and she will tell you, straight up: it’s about using the surface area intelligently.  Mirrors.  Feng shui.  You don’t need to design the thing to fit into a football field.  I get the whole lets-make-it-majestic-so-that-the-whole-span-of-creation-can-impress-itself-upon-the-viewer-compelling-them-to-consider-their-place-in-the-universe-thing, but it’s a little on the nose, don’t you think?  And couldn’t we be using that space a bit more effectively?  Maybe have a gym or something?  A day care?  Three walkways on multiple levels that all lead to fixed points?  That’s ergonomically irresponsible is what it is.

Secondly (and maybe I should of started out with this, come to think of it): Health and Safety.  Put simply: we need to get some – because this place is a bloody death trap.

I don’t know how you lot usually built your freighters and your what-nots, but my teams like to do things safely, and a lot of what I’ve been seeing going on up here would make your hair stand up.

First things: I’ve been sending requisition orders about missing parts and unfinished flooring for weeks now, and I’m just not seeing any action.  Over on the blue side of the room (don’t even get me started on the ugly colour scheme) I’ve been requesting a panel for one console for weeks now.  I hope you realise that’s fully exposed electrical wiring there.  That’s actual arcing electricity shooting about all over the place – and no one is doing anything about it.  I can’t even get someone to bring us safety cones to wall it off.  A bit of tape.  A sign.

I mean, what if someone plunges their hands into there for some reason?  What if some maniac stumbles along and grabs hold of the handles?  (And why did they want handles?  Who thought that was a good idea?)  If some nutter did that – for whatever reason – you’d have a bloody lawsuit on your hands, quick smart.  In fact, two of my lads have already gotten a little close and got singed by it.  As we hosed them down and they were still convulsing they were talking all sorts of nonsense about ascending to the status of a god, leading an unstoppable armada of galactic monsters.  And that’s not fun!  That’s no good!  Two fellas who now think they are the overlords of a horde of weaponised abominations?  All that paperwork I have to fill out?  Heck no.

And that’s before I’ve even gotten to the Red side – which is just as bad.  Did you know that’s a main gas line?  That’s superheated fuel pumping through that console.  I don’t know which genius thought that was a good idea, but there’s almost no insulation, and I’m pretty sure I smell a leak.  If one of my guys decides to take a sneaky smoke break over there one time, the second they strike a match this whole damned place will go up.  Your whole Crucible, all that eezo you keep shipping up here (still no one can tell me what that stuff is for), your whole protective armada, the lot of it: up in a puff of some very radioactive smoke.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it nuked the whole Relay system.  It seems twitchy enough.

Oh, and by the way: you can stop sending all the EMSs.  We’ve got enough damned Electro-Magnetic Seismographs to last us until the next Reaper cycle.  I’m not sure whose bright idea it was to keep heading out into the galaxy to hunt for EMSs, but we don’t need them, and it’s just wasting time.  You know what we could use?  A freaking army.  How about you go drum one of those up.

Also, there’s this weird hologram that keeps floating about trying to get our boys to hurl themselves into the big green fountain of light.  He wants them to remake the universe in one gloriously self-immolating eugenic purgation, he says.  I think it’s one of those joke A.I.s you buy on the Citadel (the Macauley Culkin one if I’m not mistaken), but the damned thing is running rampant in our filing, and it’s really starting to creep out the lads.  Gets all tetchy if you shoot it in the head too.

So if someone out there in the Alliance brass can pull their head out of their collective asses and maybe send us a little help, I would really appreciate it.  So far the only one up here who talks any sense is that Kasumi woman – although I’m pretty sure she’s nicking all of my pens.


Terry Props

p.s. – And by the way – the Racchni may not be our enemies anymore, but can you at least have a talk to them about conduct in the workplace.  I’m not sure what ‘sexual harassment’ means to a space bug, but they’re all hands.  …Well, feelers.

crucible blueprint



CC: iamnottheshadowbroker@shadowbroker.com; selfawaregeth@wearelegion.com

FROM: FOREMAN: Terence Props (Professional Builder, Contractor, Electrical, Volunteer Fireman, Basket Weaving Enthusiast)


See, this is just the sort of response Sully warned me I’d get from you bureaucratic Mucky Mucks out there!  With your legalese and your penny-pinching and your blame shifting!

Have I been out to see the project?  I’ll tell you what, Hal Von Billain, I’ve been out here since day dot.  I was the first one to put up the original girder!  I lost a toe when that lazy Volus crew you sent us were clowning about on the gravlifts.  I’m the one who every day has to scare off those damned Keeper things with the garden hose before we get stuck in to work.  So don’t tell me which way is up in the cold, relentless vacuum of a pitiless universe we shall all hail the oncoming storm…

Sorry.  I mean: up.  Don’t tell me which way is up.

So I dare you come out here!  I dare you and all your buddies in financing and human resources to get out from behind your desk (where you all live) and get your hands dirty.  I dare you to come out here to the site, slip on some overalls, strap on a breather …and some gravboots (you’ll need those)…and a spinal harness (we’ve still not compensated for the screwy physics) … and maybe get inoculated (no one talks about it, but the Racchni do have some nasty parasites), and then you tell me that we’re not working our darndest to get this thing up and running.

(…Also, you’ll need to replace the majority of your organs with plastic counterparts – turns out that much eezo that close together is like standing inside a microwave.  Who knew?)

And if you have the gumption to do that, you’ll see right away that this is the most efficient, hard-working crew in the universe.  Certainly better than that clean-up squad you assigned to the Citadel after the Cerberus attack.  From what I’ve heard they’ve just been sweeping up the same broken glass for months now.  Apparently there’s even a fire in the Presidium Garden that no one’s bothered to put out.  Weeks, just blazing away.  Families sitting in the cafe just breathing in the noxious fumes…  But no: those guys get raises, bonuses, off-hour recreation time at Purgatory, functioning 401ks.

What do we get?  We get our lungs eradiated with piles of glowing biotic slag (much appreciated), and last weekend I spent four hours chasing a Pyjak out of a circuit grid.  …And I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure that whatever that space monkey got a hold of in there might have accidentally changed our course direction.  I’ve looked at the navi and we seem to be heading to Earth now.

At least when the timeless machine overlords return to free us from the terrible burden of life we will exalt their glorious…

Geez.  My head.

Wait, what did I just type?  …Something about machines?  Oh, yeah: Like I said before: enough already with the EMSs!  We’re up around 7000 now.  It’s ridiculous.  We do not have the storage space!  And they’re just not doing anything!  They just sit there.  I swear, it makes no impact at all.

Oh, and the hologram says hello.  We’ve been talking.  Turns out he’s actually an okay guy.  Got some funny ideas about politics – little racist maybe, but generally okay.  Just – seriously, don’t get him started on synthetics.  He looks like a kid, but he’s got some very old-fashioned ideas.

…Although he does seem to want me to put more explosives in the flooring for some reason.  I remember thinking that was a bad idea, but the more he talks to me the more it seems to make sense.  And I’m not sure why, but when I think about it too long things get a little hazy.

Phew.  My head is buzzing.

And just to let you know, I am going to install that trapdoor in the lower console section.  I know it’s not on the plans, but there’s lovely guy here with glowing eyes (gives off a bit of a President-from-The-West-Wing vibe) who thinks that would be a great idea.  And after he injected that thing into my brain (you knew about that, right?  He said he cleared it with you?) it suddenly seems like a fantastic idea.



I mean: Props.  Terence Props.

p.s. – Also, what the hell is a Tribble?  Suddenly they’re everywhere.

Crucible chamber

7 Responses to “A Brief (Once-A-)Fan-Fiction Interlude…”

  1. Tom Painter Says:

    I remember reading this back on your BSN blog, time has not diminished its ability to make me laugh. The nerdy side of me can’t help but make a comment though. The baffling non-euclidian architecture Shepard mooches around in like a drunk in an M.C. Escher designed charnel house was part of the Citadel. The lowest floors of the Citadel tower to be precise, with Casper’s playroom being the exterior base of the tower, meaning that all three options had been built into the Citadel’s design over a billion years ago, since by Star Brat’s own admission Shepard is the first organic ever to have set foot in that ‘chamber’ … wait in over a billion years no one has set foot on the bottom of the tower of governance of each cycle … wait … but … now I have a nosebleed.

    It was fun reading these once again, I’m looking forward to your retrospective.

  2. Thanks for the compliment, Tom, and for the correction.

    Although, even as profound as my mistake was (and it sounds like it was pretty fundamental), the sniveling, petty part of my psyche still feels like I spent more time thinking about the mechanics of this contraption than the writers ever did.

    Yeah. Getting snotty about it will definitely hide my shame…

  3. Tom Painter Says:

    Oh, I have absolutely no doubt that you put more creativity and thought into thise parody than Bioware put into their giant microphone shaped space MacGuffin. That the culmination of the narrative involves plugging the MacGuffin into the Deus Ex Machina (Catalyst) to unlock the ending is so ludicrous it borders on storytelling parody. It was not so much a derailment as a calm stop, asking all the passengers off and then slowly and laboriously toppling the stationary train carriage before their eyes. I would scratch my head at the reality presented but I fear I would work through to grey matter before finishing being perplexed at the choice.

    Your little detour back into the quagmire that is the ME3 ending has got me waxing lyrical about what could have been once again as well. If you will allow me a moment of indulgence I have mused for some time on how the Crucible could have functioned as an effective narrative tool, perhaps even using it’s blatant nature as a literary device from getting from point A to B to its eventual advantage.

    I find the very concept of a device designed and built by the successive civilizations of dozens or more cycles separated by hundreds of thousands to millions of years to be farcical. That’s just as a concept, long before attempting to factor in all prior information regarding Reaper tactics which would make such a notion impossible, the systematic and thorough destruction of all technology left behind by each cycle, that somehow each cycle effectively constructed a device of unknown purpose, with no idea of how it functions, designed to interact with something none of them were aware of which has a ‘chamber’ specifically designed, at the time of the Citadel’s construction over a billion years ago, to utilize the device (which no one had invented at the time) to perform three arbitrary actions no one can fathom in order to put an end to cycles of harvesting that had yet to start. But I digress….

    The concept of a superweapon located in Prothean archives had wonderful potential to be an enormous red herring and a final testament to the evil Eldritch abominations that are the Reapers. The crucible is of Reaper design. One more back up plan, one more way to demonstrate their superiority over and mastery of organic beings through manipulation.

    – First the Citadel, a magnificent prize that never fails to be the centre of galactic governance each cycle, placing the heart of their enemy at the tip of their spear.
    – The keepers, mystifying but incredibly helpful guardians of such a wonder, defy scrutiny through self destruction, deter organic curiosity in favour of comfort.
    – The Mass Relays, equally defiant of investigation but who cares they offer such glories to any that can use them.
    – The Vanguard, a custodian left behind to signify the appropriate moment to annihilate every advancement organics have taken pride in, every advancement handed down to them by a species that holds them in contempt.
    – The rachnii, indoctrinated to enact plan B fails but results in 2 glactic wars, crippling council militaries.
    – The geth and a spectre figurehead, plan C – nearly works.
    – The Collectors, plan D, indoctrinated puppets, the apex of their cycle brought to the heel of their conquerors. Twisted beyond all recognition and acting at the behest of the Reaper ‘leader’ towards unknown purposes.
    – The alpha relay, second to last resort, a Relay network back door, the only option left to utilize overwhelming force mixed with a rapid strike. Fails. They’ll have to do it the hard way.

    The Reapers are over 2000 years overdue, this galaxy has had that much grace period to advance, then factor in the discoveries made off the back of studying Sovereign’s debris and I become irritated every time the ‘We can’t win this conventionally’ BS was hammered in by ME3. The Reapers are powerful, but not invincible. Their tactics speak against their espoused unassailable superiority. Subterfuge, sneak attacks, rapid strikes, cutting communications, turning organic minds to their cause, twisting organics into shock troops and hurling them back at their friends, family and allies hoping emotion will stay your enemy’s hand long enough to win. Using emotions as a weapon to weild against organics. To this I would add hope. It is within this twisting and bastardization of hope that the Crucible as a Reaper trap takes roost.

    On the brink of annihilation a disparate and scattered galactic community scrabbles for anything to hold on to in the face of the monstrous. They find it. A superweapon of unimaginable power. Its fortuitous timing is overlooked out of sheer desire for survival. Hope that this will be the way out. It’s incredibly easy to build too, its designs are intuitive, the Prothean language used is simple, not what you would expect for so complex a scientific endeavour. All valid points, red flags raised and dismissed in panic to get this out the door before the casualty list reaches the trillions. It is a beacon around which the galaxy gathers, a camp fire in the dark whilst the wolves prowl in the stygian gloom beyond. It forms the lynchpin of a desperate last strike, a strike that comes relatively early in a galactic war, why waste ships holding them back? This conflict has to end now. The might of the united galactic military, once with the entirety of the 100,000 light years in diameter Milky Way as its playground for guerilla war tactics, with the vastness of that space in which to hide, is focussed here, around this beacon of hope. The crucible activates and it’s a trap. Maybe it doesn’t work, maybe it detonates spectacularly, maybe it sends out a pulse that kills all ship systems except the Reapers (hardened to their own tech), maybe it indoctrinates everyone rapidly etc etc. The point is that the majority of the threat posed by this cycle is in one place. Ripe for the slaughter. One last plan from a species that has refined the systematic and brutal slaughter of the mightiest civilizations the galaxy has had to offer down to an art-form. An art they have been practicing uncontested for over a billion years. For all their claims to be dispassionate machines, superior to the chaos of organic emotions and thoughts, their proclamations and tactics reveal the lie of that statement. Here at the end, they did it again, they used the last thing avilable to organic beings, the purest thought imaginable in such a situation, the one that will keep them going in the face of death, that there is a hope for tomorrow, and they twisted it into a dagger that stabbed them in the back. One last insult for an act of defiance to their whims.

    In that capacity the Crucible could have worked. Indeed it does work, in exemplary fashion in Koobismo’s Marauder Shields (which continues to go from strength to strength). Its nature as a convenient plot device would then be a feature not a bug. It is a shame Bioware went the other way really.

    As for any mistake on your part with regards to where the final moments of the Mass Effect trilogy takes place I would put this to you: given that a large portion of the fan base vehemently wished that the entirety of the last ten minutes took place in a dream as opposed to the horrific reality Bioware were attempting to present, you were not too far off the mark, just the wrong ham-fisted literary device.

    • Absolutely.

      And as always, spectacularly said, Tom. Your description of the Crucible as a maniacal, logical trap is one of the few times that I’ve felt the mess of that ending could have somehow been salvaged in narrative.

      One of the only other times – as you so rightly note – has been in the pages of the wonderful Marauder Shields, which I continue to be amazed by, as it has clung so dearly to those notions of hope and sacrifice that once were integral to Bioware’s fiction.

  4. This was wonderful, and gave me a good laugh this morning. (I’m struggling to come up with a good fight sequence for this Wild Card graphic novel). Anyway, thanks for this.

  5. Tom, well done on the analysis of the Crucible as another trap for each civilization. Because god it didn’t make any sense otherwise. At one point we’re told the Citadel was built by the Reapers as a way to lure and lull the civilizations that would arise after each reaping, but then it’s also the means to destroy the Reapers? But they built the Citadel so why would they do… that…. Yeah, my head hurts.

  6. Oh, and I tossed up my thoughts about the missed opportunities with the whole clone story line over on my blog. http://melindasnodgrass.com/disposable-clones-and-yes-its-about-mass-effect

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